3 position battles to watch after Georgia's first preseason scrimmage
Georgia recently held its first preseason scrimmage.
The Bulldogs, entering their second season under head coach Kirby Smart, were picked to win the SEC East at the league’s annual media days event in July. But what Smart saw left him wanting more.
“We didn’t exactly get the level of intensity that I was looking for,” Smart told reporters in a post-practice press conference. “I thought some of the guys had their first real practice in the heat. We have not had the kind of heat we had today. It was disappointing. I felt like it affected too many guys mentally.”
Still, Smart pinpointed a few positives, too.
“I felt both units made some plays,” he said. “The offense did some good things on third down, kind of dominated the third-down period. The defense won the red area period, which we all know the red area woes we’ve had. Both sides of the ball competed really hard doing that.”
Here are a few other takeaways from the scrimmage, based off the insight Smart imparted afterward.
The receiving corps is still a question mark
Despite a breakout outing from the Bulldogs receivers in the G-Day game in April, Smart refused to say his team had found a go-to option. Saturday’s scrimmage, in that regard, changed nothing. The group was far too inconsistent for Smart’s liking. Yes, Smart conceded, a few “made plays.” But those highlights were negated by the “mental mistakes” they committed.
At least depth-wise, the Bulldogs aren’t worried. Smart said 12 players are competing for approximately 10 spots in the rotation. And before preseason camp concludes, Smart hopes the unit cuts the miscues to a minimum.
But will any player step up to become the lead receiver?
There are plenty of possibilities.
Javon Wims, a senior, had four receptions for 96 yards at G-Day. Junior Terry Godwin was the Bulldogs’ second-leading receiver last season behind Isaiah McKenzie. Even so, sentiment seems to surround Godwin that he has underachieved to this point. Could this finally be the former 5-star signee’s time?
Then there are sophomores Riley Ridley — the younger brother of Alabama star Calvin Ridley — and Mecole Hardman, an all-purpose threat who might pull double-duty at cornerback. Jeremiah Holloman, an early enrollee who impressed teammates and coaches this spring, can’t be discounted, either.
Should one of them separate from the pack, it would make Jacob Eason’s life a bit easier this fall.
Offensive line needs more cohesion
Isaiah Wynn didn’t practice this past week due to an undisclosed illness. That included Saturday’s scrimmage.
Expected to start at left tackle, Wynn is widely considered to be the Bulldogs’ best offensive lineman. With Wynn out, the starting five has consisted of Dyshon Sims at left tackle, Andrew Thomas at left guard, Lamont Gaillard at center, Solomon Kindley at right guard and Ben Cleveland at right tackle.
Smart said Wynn’s absence has been a mixed blessing.
“It helps from a standpoint of being able to look at more guys at more spots,” Smart said. “That’s a positive. The negative, I don’t think we’re as effective with him out.”
Smart was quick to point out that with Wynn sidelined, it wasn’t as if the offensive line “couldn’t function.” But Smart was clear: Georgia is better with Wynn on the field than off.
And therein lies the biggest quandary: While the Bulldogs don’t mind giving less experienced linemen first-team reps in practice, it hinders Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s ability to evaluate the starting five they hope to trot out Sept. 2 against Appalachian State.
Simply put, the sooner Wynn returns, the better it will be for Georgia’s offensive line.
Specialist battles rage on
Georgia brings back its most seasoned players at punter and kicker in Marshall Long and Rodrigo Blankenship, respectively.
Yet the duo’s experience has done them no favors. Both are competing for their starting job. And Smart said those battles will continue this week.
At punter, Smart said Long — who averaged 38.7 yards per punt on 49 attempts last season — has work to do to overcome Cameron Nizialek, a graduate transfer who averaged 41 yards per punt at Columbia.
Part of the issue has been Long’s mindset: Though Smart said Long has fully recovered — physically — from a broken kneecap that ended his 2016 campaign prematurely, the coach acknowledged Long is still trying to push through the mental aspect of his comeback.
The other part is that Nizialek is simply punting better.
“I think he’s doing a good job of pushing through it and having confidence in trying to go out and stroke it,” Smart said of Long. “The other kid (Nizialek) is just punting the ball really good. It’s not that Marshall’s punted bad.”
It’s a different story at kicker.
There, Smart said there is no separation between Blankenship and David Marvin, a graduate transfer from Wofford.
Blankenship instantly became a fan favorite last season thanks to his heroics against Kentucky, when he went 4-for-4 on field goals, including the game-winning 25-yard kick as time expired. Overall, Blankenship converted 14 of his 18 attempts in 2016, making 10 consecutive during one stretch. But kickoffs were a struggle, as he only had 20 touchbacks in 55 attempts.
Though Blankenship is the known commodity, don’t dismiss Marvin. The Charlotte native was a first-team All-Southern Conference kicker last season and is Wofford’s record holder for most career field goals (32). In addition, he owns seven of the 10 longest field goals in Wofford’s annals, including a 57-yard boot that tied for the longest in Southern Conference history.
Compare that to Blankenship.
His longest field goal last season was 49 yards.
If Blankenship can’t prove dependable from beyond 50 yards during camp, don’t be surprised if Marvin snags the job.